- Museum number
Sea by night, Dymchurch; a view out to sea with dark waves rolling towards the shore. 1919
Pen and ink, graphite and watercolour
- Production date
Height: 281 millimetres
Width: 389 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The present work is one of thirty drawings by Paul Nash in the British Museum's collections. Nash made this seascape in 1919, after returning from the First World War where he had been appointed official artist. His position required him to record scenes from the Front for the Propaganda Department in London. The ravaged landscapes he witnessed and illustrated during this time had a profound influence on him and Nash later explained in his autobiography 'Outline' that the war had altered his perception of nature and had had a significant impact on his landscapes: 'with [the] last phase of the war and my participation in it as official artist on the Western Front, a change began to take place. Thenceforth the whole savour of living, and the nature of my work seemed direly affected. I was launched into a turbulent sea where the dramatic adventures of life and art were breaking anew' (Malvern, p. 154).
Nash first visited Dymchurch, a small village on the south coast of Kent, in 1919, a few months after being discharged from the army. In 1921, after suffering from a mental break-down brought on by war strain, he and his wife moved to Dymchurch where they remained until 1925. The coastal village had a significant importance in the artist's career. He was especially fascinated by the great sea wall built to protect the Romney Marsh from flooding (see 1932,0312.25). In the years following his first discovery of the site, Nash drew it endlessly, until 1925 when he firmly stated that he would never work there anymore. As Causey related, the place had 'caught Nash's imagination and stimulated it with extraordinary force' and the collection of resulting drawings, more so than those of any other place, 'represent a phase in Nash's art' (p. 112). The artist himself viewed his drawings of Dymchurch as a series, describing them as a 'whole set of designs' (Causey, p. 112). The critic John Rothenstein, a personal acquaintance of Nash, admired his Dymchurch drawings and wrote that 'a whole series of water-colours came into being as a consequence of his visit to this stretch of coast, designs calculated with exquisite precision to express the rhythmic sweep of the shore, the infinite spaciousness of sea and sky' (p. 349-350). Though he continuously drew the sea, he did not love it as he had the wooded landscapes of his childhood (for more information about Nash's landscapes before the war see curator's comment 1958,0303.1). Indeed, as a child he had nearly drowned in the sea and it had become a place of unease and violence which he later described as 'cold and cruel waters usually in a threatening mood, pounding and rattling along the shore' (Outline, p. 41).
This watercolour, made during his first trip to Dymchurch, is one of Nash's earliest representations of the sea. In this drawing, Nash chose not to represent the great wall that dominates his other compositions of Dymchurch. Causey stated that in his first attempts to capture this new landscape, the artist was most at ease when looking straight at the sea and that 'Sea by Night, Dymchurch' could be understood as a reflection of the artist's inner turmoil, as he 'began to discover a pattern in the waves which reflected the rhythm of their motions in terms of the darkness of his own mood' (Causey, p. 115). The work was exhibited the following November in a solo exhibition 'Drawings by Paul Nash' in the 9 Fitzroy Street Studio (no. 26) where the Nashes lived for some months. Nash sold the drawing on the 29th of November 1919 for 8 guineas to Campbell Dodgson, the keeper of the Prints and Drawings Department of the British museum, who bequeathed it to the British Museum on June 10, 1954.
- Roger Cardinal, 'The Landscape Vision of Paul Nash', London 1989.
- Andrew Causey, 'Paul Nash', Oxford 1980.
- David Boyd Haycock, 'Paul Nash: Watercolours 1910-1946', exh. Cat. Piano Nobile, London, 2014.
- Letter from Paul Nash to his wife Margaret, Ypres, Belgium, 6 April 1917. Tate archive, TGA 8318.104.22.168.
- Sue Malvern, 'Modern Art, Britain and the Great War. Witnessing, testimony and remembrance', London, 2004.
- Paul Nash, 'Outline: An Autobiography and Other Writings', with a preface by Herbert Read, London, 1949.
- Leonard Robinson, 'Paul Nash: Winter Sea. The development of an image', York, 1997.
- John Rothenstein, 'Modern English Painters, Sickert to Moore', London 1957.
[This entry was written by Catherine Boël, Anne Christopherson Fellow in the Department of Prints and Drawings, November 2016.]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1919 Fitzroy Street Gallery, cat.26
1975 London, Tate Gallery, Paul Nash, cat.26
2003 July-Oct, Liverpool, Tate, Paul Nash: Modern Artist, Ancient Landscape
2010 Feb-May, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Paul Nash: The Elements, cat.22
2013 23 Mar-30 Jun, Saffron Walden, Fry Art Gallery, An Outbreak of Talent
2017 23 Feb-27 Aug, London, BM, G90, Places of the Mind: British Landscape watercolours 1850-1950
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- According to Dodgson's card catalogue, this drawing was purchased directly from the artist on 29 November 1919 for 8 guineas. The title given is as recorded on the card.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number